MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Strapped, harnessed and rigged with ropes, U.S. Marines clambered up a rock wall before rappelling back down to switch and belay their partners up the wall. Reach, grip, pull. Step and stand. Reach, grip, pull. Step and stand.
Approximately 20 Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Marines completed Special Operations Training Group (SOTG)’s six-week assault climbers course at Coopers Rock, W.Va., Aug. 17, 2013, in preparation for the MEU’s 2014 deployment.
“The purpose of us coming to this course is to increase proficiency and learn to lead climb, which is without a net or safety equipment,” said Sgt. James Davis, a squad leader and native of Waverly, Tenn. “We’re taking this to become an asset to the BLT and the 22nd MEU, to be able to perform a vertical assault if it’s needed during the deployment.”
During the first two weeks, Marines learned how to tie 14 knots and rig nearly as many rope systems to move personnel up and over rocky terrain.
Once they learned the 14 different knots, the Marines were tested on them at least three times a day. Blindfolded and restricted to 30-second time limits, they selected the appropriate type of rope or cord by touch and tied it into the desired configuration.
“Honestly, it’s probably one of the hardest courses I’ve ever been to in my nine-and-a-half years,” said Davis. “You have to overcome the fear of heights, be confident in the abilities they teach you here and be willing to put yourself out there.”
SOTG instructors tested their students in the third week after thoroughly teaching the different knots and rope systems.
“By far, this is the best class we’ve ever had from any of the MEUs,” observed Sgt. Louis Waddell, lead instructor for the course and native of Chatom, Ala. “We usually drop 10-12 Marines in the first few weeks. This class only dropped two.”
The third week also included climbing up and down artificial rock walls and belaying others, all with knots and rope systems the Marines tied themselves.
The second half of the course moved the students to Coopers Rock, W.Va., to apply their new skills in the state’s mountainous terrain, as well as learn new advanced climbing and rescue techniques.
These techniques included using rope bridges, emergency rope rescues and lead climbing, which entails scaling a structure unsupported to install support systems for following climbers.
“Lead climbing was the best part of it all,” said Lance Cpl. Aaron Straight, mortarman gunner and native of Monument, Colo. “It was the most scary fun you could have in training.”
“What we teach here in six weeks takes two years to learn in the civilian world, so there is a huge learning curve here for these guys,” added Waddell, referring to lead climbing.
At the end of the course, 13 Marines were qualified to lead climb and six more were still qualified to tie knots, create rope systems and climb with support systems.
“Not only does it give a new tactical aspect to the BLT and the MEU, but it gives you a new skill for recreation,” said Davis.
“My experience went up 10 times from this course,” commented Straight. “It’s probably the best course the Marine Corps could send you to, straight up. No pun intended.”
The MEU’s deployment will take it to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious missions across the full range of military operations.